Reporter’s notebook: a Hongkonger in Trump territory confuses the true believers

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 November, 2016, 9:29am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 November, 2016, 4:59pm

Looking at the sea of faces queued up to see Donald Trump at his rally in Concord, North Carolina on Thursday, you could be forgiven for thinking the United States is 100 per cent Caucasian.

A woman looked me up and down, apparently confused by my presence.

I had originally planned to record a video of the people waiting outside the venue. But a media colleague warned me that it might not be looked upon kindly, so I decided to simply wait patiently for the show to start with everyone else.

Watch: Inside Trump's North Carolina rally

I passed through a cursory security check - less stringent and friendlier than a third-tier airport - and I was in.

Reporter’s notebook: faced with candidates they don’t trust, some US students find it hard to pick a side

Trump started speaking just as I strolled through.

The crowd knew what it wanted to hear, and it was ready to play its part too. Mere mention of Hillary Clinton’s name was enough to trigger chants of “lock her up”, although Trump himself did not reciprocate.

A media colleague wondered whether Trump was deliberately softening his tone. He promised to “come back to it later”, when the crowd railed against Clinton, but he never did for the duration of the 30 minute speech.

But there was plenty of red meat for the crowd. When the topic swung swiftly to Trump’s plans to crack down hard on illegal immigration, a new three-word chant went up: “Build that wall!”

(a sentiment that seems at odds with North Carolina’s not-particularly-large Latino population).

Trump certainly knows how to push his supporters’ buttons - even to the extent of them happily contradicting themselves.

As he neared the end of his speech he asked: “Who will go to vote on November 8?”

Everyone in the arena raised their hands and cheered.

Trump then asked again: “Who’s already voted?”

The same hands were raised even higher, the same people cheered even louder.

Stepping into a Trump rally is very different to covering Hong Kong politics, my usual beat.

There was a pervasive sense of unfriendliness towards the media, reflecting a frequent theme of Trump’s campaign (and, perhaps, the overwhelming number of media endorsements for Clinton).

On the other hand, there’s no denying Trump’s power to charm his backers. They looked at him like a friend, cheered like they were at a rock concert, and walked away looking happy, satisfied and determined.

“I think he is going to look out for everyone in America,” a middle-aged woman, raising a “Women for Trump” placard, told me.